Thursday, August 27, 2020

Leadership Accountability

Guest post from Vince Molinaro:

Publilius Syrus was a Latin writer who lived from 85 to 43 B.C. He wrote, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” He got it right way back then. Anyone can lead when times are good, when the world is stable, and the sea is calm. It takes real and accountable leaders to lead in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

No truer words have ever been spoken and now in a world gripped by a global pandemic, all leaders will need to be stronger than they have ever been to lead us through the uncertainty and ambiguity we all face. In today’s complex world, leaders are being asked to step up in dynamic and unexpected ways.

But there is a problem. At a time when we need leaders to be stronger, they are not. Many leaders that I work with today tell me they are overwhelmed, disengaged, and underprepared for their roles and the challenges of these unprecedented times.

Unfortunately, many leaders are not equipped with the tools they need to lead under pressure. As a result, they fail to serve themselves and their employees effectively, and put the future of their entire organization at risk.

I conducted a LinkedIn poll a few weeks after the COVID-19 virus shut own the world.  I was curious to learn about the experiences that leaders in my network were having. The top two challenges that came out on the top of their list was dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and coming to the realization that they would have to make some difficult business decisions. Ones that would impact the lives and careers of their employees. As the weeks and months have gone by, it seems these two primary challenges remain for leaders.

So how do you lead when your world has been upended?

I believe that the way forward is to focus on leadership accountability. It is and will always be what sets the truly great leaders apart from the rest.

There is a dual response that will be required: individual and organizational.

At a personal level, you will need to embrace leadership accountability. This means you will need to step up and demonstrate personal ownership for your leadership role.  You will need to be deliberate and decisive in the way that you lead. You will also need to bring a sense of urgency, courage and resilience in how you lead every single day.

But there is more. You will need to go beyond yourself to hold others accountable for being leaders. You will need to build truly accountable teams. You will also need to play a role within and across your organization to build a strong leadership culture and community of leaders.

At an organizational level, you must work to make leadership accountability a priority within a company. Senior leaders will need to define clear leadership expectations for all their leaders. They must also do the hard work to sustain their momentum in building a both strong leadership culture.

Finally, they must invest the time to help leaders create a sense of community across the entire organization.

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D., (Oakville, Ontario, Canada) is Founder and CEO of Leadership Contract Inc and is an author, speaker, leadership adviser and researcher. His most recent book, Accountable Leaders: Inspire a Culture Where Everyone Steps Up, Takes Ownership, and Delivers Results, came out in June. Molinaro has helped create one of the leading brands in the Human Capital industry, working in several key sectors including energy, pharmaceutical, professional services, technology, financial services, and the public sector. He is the author of four successful books, Leadership Solutions, The Leadership Gap, The Leadership Contract, and the Leadership Contract Field Guide.  His work has been featured in many of the world’s leading business publications, including The Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and The World EconomicForum.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

How To Ask Remarkably Better Questions To Encourage Great Ideas

Guest post from Karin Hurt and David Dye:


You’ve asked your team for their great ideas.


You have an open door.

You’re also committed to MBWA (or in today’s pandemic-constrained world, Management By Clicking Around- MBCA). But if you’re like most leaders in our Courageous Cultures research, you’re still not getting all the great ideas you need. 

Why?

In our research conducted in conjunction with the University of North Colorado, despite all the asking leaders think they’re doing, 49% of employees said the reason they’re not sharing their great ideas (to improve the customer experience, efficiency in a process, or employee engagement) is because no one asked.

Laura’s story

Laura, an IT Vice President at a mid-sized energy company, was excited to spend some time with her teams, hold a few skip level meetings, and see their new system in action. Her team had been holding user-experience calls every week and all the feedback had been positive. She hoped to collect some great stories to share with the CEO about how the new system was making things easier for the customer service reps and, ultimately, for their customers.

Before her first meeting, Laura sat down with a customer service rep and asked the rep “Can you show me your favorite part of the new system?”

The rep attempted to pull up the first screen. But after five minutes they were both still staring at an hourglass and waiting for the page to load. The rep looked apologetically at Laura and said, “I’m sorry to waste your time. This usually takes a while.”

Laura’s jaw dropped. The vendor had promised the new system would be seven times faster – not slower. “Can you show me another page,” she asked.

She sat through another slow load time. She turned to the rep, “Is it always like this?”

“Oh, yeah. We’re used to it at this point, but the system has some other nice features.”

Laura thanked the rep and hurried to a quiet conference room where she could call her team. After ten minutes of testing, they realized that the center’s server didn’t have the capacity to run the new system. Hundreds of reps had been suffering through a ridiculous wait that wasted their time and their customers’ time.

Week after week, supervisors had sat on user experience calls, fully aware of the issue, and hadn’t said a word. No one had ever raised the issue.

After replacing the server and ensuring everything was back on track, Laura went back to the reps on the user experience team and asked why they had never brought this up.

“Well, no one ever asked us about the speed. Our boss told us that we needed to be “change agents” and role model excitement for the new system – no matter what. Under no circumstances were we to be negative. So, we just smiled, sucked it up, and dealt with it.”

Laura’s situation is far too common. The “no one asked” reply might be frustrating, but it is one of the most frequent obstacles to a Courageous Culture.

How to Ask Your Team For Their Great Ideas

If you want your teams great ideas, you need to do more than ask questions. That helps, but it’s not just that you ask. In Courageous Cultures, leaders ask regularly and skillfully. You ask in ways that draw out people’s best thinking, new ideas, and customer-focused solutions. Everyone knows that when you ask, you sincerely want to know and are committed to taking action on what you learn. Three qualities distinguish how leaders ask questions in a Courageous Culture: they are intentional, vulnerable, and action-focused.

Intentional

Cultivating Curiosity starts with intention: you must ask—a lot. Your leaders have to ask more than might seem reasonable. This kind of asking goes way beyond an open-door policy. In fact, most open-door policies are a passive leadership cop-out. “I’m approachable. I have an open door,” puts the responsibility on the team, not the leader. That’s a problem because most of the ideas you need will never walk through your open door. There’s too much friction to overcome: time away from their normal work, not knowing how their manager will respond, or not even realizing they have an idea to share.

Vulnerable

Have you ever watched a leader ask for feedback and then defensively justify their decisions and shoot down objections? When you ask questions that assume something needs to improve, you are more likely to get an honest response.

“What’s one thing that’s ticking off our customers?”

“What’s one policy driving everyone crazy?”

Action-Focused

We’ve sat through strategic planning sessions and focus groups where leaders asked questions and everyone in the room knew that the answers didn’t matter. Sometimes, even when the leaders had good intentions, they lacked the ability or willingness to act on what they heard.

Your employees need to know that you will act on what you learn. Action takes many forms. It might be that you implement the idea, that the feedback informs your decision, that you take it all in and then respond with next steps, or maybe it’s simply releasing the team to take action on their ideas.

Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their
soul. They’re the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm. They're the award-winning authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let's Grow Leaders. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Call of “Not Knowing”– How Uncertainty is Still the Test of Leadership

Guest post by Randall P. White:

American leaders are rising to the occasion.

You just have to look a little deeper. There have been great examples of leadership in our multiple crises of the moment.

Mayors, governors, even some sheriffs and police officers, are showing how it’s done. People who are otherwise obscure on the national scene are now showing up in news feeds and quenching a yearning for sanity, direction and confidence.

Such as? Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta relating to us as a parent and an executive, saying enough is enough and here are things we’re doing about it. Sheriff Chris Swanson in Michigan who “protected and served” protesters, by joining their march. Dr. Anthony Fauci laying out both what he knows and what he doesn’t know. Even without a definitive answer, we know he has a process based on data and rationality with a goal of public safety and avoiding death.

In all of this, it’s not about being a better person. It’s about knowing how to be a conduit for solutions—and creating a safe space to listen to ideas and try the best one’s out—searching for viable solutions in an uncertain world.

Crisis leadership is a crucible and it’s natural for us to be inspired by what it can produce.

We are seeing that leadership is a calling and it’s often more geeky than macho and certainly not authoritarian. Well-developed leaders are piqued by “not knowing” and motivated by the challenge to find out. They enjoy learning and they don’t mind mistakes as long as the mistakes are the kind where we learn and grow and ultimately leapfrog us forward to a viable solution.

Then there are leaders who really are geeks: Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk. They’re lucky to have more of a sandbox than a crucible. Gates, Dorsey and Musk are like brainy action figures of leadership. Fascinating and fun to watch. Who doesn’t like seeing a reusable rocket back its way down to a landing pad for the first time?

Yet, Bottoms, Fauci and Swanson are a little more compelling right now, by being less preordained. Not nationally known. Less expected. And more attainable examples of leaders. Each rose to the occasion. Each has to rally followership—but they are believable and approachable and so, they are relatable in how they approach seemingly impossible situations in an ever-increasing complex environment of crisis atop crisis.

Real leaders, regardless how they come packaged–gender, ethnicity, nationality– aren’t afraid of what they don’t know. They run toward the danger and the unknown so that their people are energized to solve important problems, whether it’s racism in a police department or landing a first stage rocket on a stationary platform at sea. Each is very difficult.

They’re the people who come forward in a crisis that grab our imagination, like Churchill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt rose to their wholly unknown occasions during World War II.

In contrast to the current president they are not caught up in themselves. They show up for the followers, knowing that they have a calling to represent the best of the followers and to help them be successful by creating a space where they can try their best to solve the problems at hand.

So we see in our tumult that leaders are okay with being uncertain. That’s what they signed on for. Leadership has always been about bringing people through “not knowing.”

Not knowing we’d be where we ended up six months later, I wrote a new chapter to Relax, It’s Only Uncertainty in September thinking it was time to re-release the title, after 19 years.

My now-retired colleague Philip Hodgson and I authored Relax as a field guide for leadership–the culmination of a decade studying how people manage ambiguity and its attendant uncertainty. This work also resulted in The Ambiguity Architect, a 360 to assess a person’s ability to tolerate or master uncertainty. The instrument has consistently suggested that high performers do well on this scale. And our experience suggests that dealing with uncertainty successfully can be learned and improved.

The basic lessons of Relax, first published as Y2K faded into the rear-view mirror, remain relevant and are taught in global business schools’ leadership curriculum.

They’re also demonstrated by our public sector rising stars.

With Covid-19 and mass civil disobedience we see leaders calling on traits like “being motivated by mysteries,” future scanning, simplifying and enthusiasm (to name half of the book’s eight Enablers for managing uncertainty).

We can observe this in new leaders to the fore like Bottoms, Fauci, and Swanson. They break complex, nuanced and sometimes abstract situations into simple statements we all can share: citizens don’t trust authority, we can’t overwhelm our health care system, and the chaos needs to stop for everyone. 

As a business professor, I have to ask how can business leaders learn as we watch these ascending leaders in society? Chaos, ambiguity and uncertainty bring opportunity for good leaders to not only emerge, but also invent new solutions, new competitive advantages. And a better workplace, in which learning is constant, inclusion is an advantage and imagination is allowed to thrive.

Randall P. White, PhD., is a social psychologist, executive coach and managing partner of the Executive Development Group. He is Co-head of Leadership at HEC Paris and author of Relax, It’s Only Uncertainty.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Mastering your Inner Game of Leadership

Guest post from Ron Garonzik and Rick Lash:

In 1938 archeologists in Israel made a remarkable discovery – a cache of 2,500-year-old letters between officers and their commanders. They provide a unique window on the impact overly controlling, self-centered leadership styles can have on others: “Regarding the letter you sent, the heart of your servant is ill, when my lord said: Don’t you know how to read a letter?  As God lives, for every letter that comes to me, it is read.”  Even Moses had a reputation as a micromanager who couldn’t give up control or delegate; his father-in-law Jethro telling him “This thing you are doing is not good – you will surely wear away you and those who are with you”.  From ancient times to today’s boardrooms, overly controlling leaders who act to serve their own needs can create toxic work environments where decision making, creativity and engagement grinds to a halt.

What are the enduring qualities of great leadership?

Starting in the 1960s, the late Harvard psychologist David McClelland and a group of researchers wanted to understand great leadership and why it matters. They discovered that the highest performing leaders weren’t more achievement driven or more people focused.  Rather, they possessed a unique motivational profile - a very pronounced need for power or influence. But in the very best leaders McClelland discovered three critical characteristics that acted as controls on their use of power and control that made all the difference – greater emotional maturity, high self-management and a participative, coaching leadership style (think of great professional sports coaches).  McClelland called these qualities ‘socialized’ power.  These outstanding leaders were not in the game for themselves but for the good of the institutions they served.  They funneled their strong need for influencing others not to meet their own self-serving needs like higher status, greater control or being liked, but rather to make others more capable and to further the mission of their organization. 

In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article Ego is the Enemy of Good Leadership, the authors note that as leader take on greater responsibility, they can become susceptible to ‘hubris syndrome’ – where power goes to their heads and the leader comes to see world as serving their own needs.  In our early careers a certain amount of ego is essential to drive success.  But an ego unmanaged can lead to self-centered behavior, coercive actions, a need for overcontrol and an inability to listen or appreciate other points of view – career derailers if unmanaged.  The good news is that socialized power can be developed, but rarely is it mentioned in preparing high potential leaders for senior leadership roles.  Little time is spent exploring why self-management is the first step in learning how to lead others or learning the basics of good team leadership - like creating clarity and setting performance standards so people know what good looks like – and how to recognize and coach others to succeed. 

Letting go of your ego

Most leadership development relies on what Hermina Ibarra, author of numerous leadership development books, calls the “plan-and-implement” model.  We identify a gap or skill we want to strengthen, then set a goal and plan for closing the gap.  That linear approach works well for developing competence, but for making deeper changes like increasing socialized power requires a different, more iterative tactic, what Ibarra refers to as “test-and-learn”.  We start with a new experience, try out a new behavior, reflect on it and then use the insights to change our assumptions and goals.  Test-and-learn leads to deeper growth in how we see ourselves and helps to make profound shifts in our mindset.  Here are a few test-and-learn ideas that can help build your socialized power and change your inner leadership game:

·         - Work on a project where you can’t count on your expertise to get you through.  Relying on others will help you develop an appreciation for what others have to offer and see the world from a different perspective.  Think of the valuable lessons learned from the show Undercover Boss where a CEO has to “flip hamburgers” and learns to appreciate the emotional, physical and personal challenges of her employees.

·         - Coach or mentor someone who has the potential to be a great leader.  Socialized power is all about gaining deep emotional satisfaction by serving others and enabling them to be successful.

·         - Make socialized power an important value in your life by reading about leaders who you deeply admire. Look for evidence of what they did, thought and felt that exemplifies socialized power. 

·         - What are the key experiences you have had in your career and life that exemplify your leadership values? Which are good examples where you demonstrated socialized power?  Which stories do you need to elevate and put more of a spotlight on? Which stories are no longer useful?  Practice telling those stories to others.

·        -  Consider expanding or changing your social network to include others who can see and reinforce the socialized power in you (rather than just the great achiever).

Great leadership is timeless.  Whether in ancient times or responding to a global crisis, the very best leaders act to make a positive difference and have learned to let go of their ego.  And they do it by developing their emotional maturity and self-control while actively engaging others.  Clearly these aren’t things one just learns in a leadership course of by reading leadership books (although these can help) but through stretching experiences, developing others, challenging deeply held beliefs and building new relationships, all of which help strengthen our desire to make a difference, serve others and in the process become better leaders. 

Ron Garonzik is an independent consultant with more than a quarter century of global leadership development experience supporting organizations large and small, public and private.

Rick Lash is an independent consultant and senior associate with Verity International and is a recognized leadership development expert and executive coach. For over 35 years he has worked with Fortune 500 organizations in Canada, the United States and internationally. His most recent work focuses on the power of leadership narrative for creating authentic leadership.